Friday, July 25, 2008


1998. It’s a year worth celebrating. If you can’t recall what took place in ‘98, much less understand why I’m celebrating it, here’s a quick trip back in the time machine:

In 1998, as we all prepared for the pending crisis of Y2K, we also witnessed the Chicago Bulls win their 6th NBA Title and Michael Jordan play his last game as a Bull. Hong Kong’s fancy new International Airport opened, which meant the chances for a fiery death from your plane crashing into a high rise building (like at the old airport) dropped dramatically. In politics, our country’s attention was (unfortunately) fixated on the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment of Bill Clinton. The film Titanic won 11 Oscars that year, including Best Picture…and forever ruined the phrase, “I’m king of the world”. Frank Sinatra passed away that year, at the age of 82. Meanwhile, in Menlo Park, CA, two Stanford PhD students started a little company called Google, which would soon change the way we experience the internet.

1998 was also the year that Carita and I got married. Yes, it’s been 10 years. This was, of all the momentous and trivial events of that year, the most significant one for us. We were both 24 in 1998, young and not quite sure of how this “life” thing was supposed to work. A total of almost 900 people attended our wedding. I recall feeling overwhelmed by it all, as I walked in and took my position at the end of the aisle. So many expectations, so many dreams…anxious and nervous. I hardly remembered to breathe. But then, the string quartet started playing Purcell and those doors at the back of the church opened and there she was. And as I watched her walk towards me, I knew then, in a deeper way than I had ever known before, that this woman was my life and that I wanted no future apart from her.

Our ten years of marriage have been ten years of laughter, tears, joy, and heartache. I am challenged by this woman that I married, just as I am encouraged and frustrated and confused and loved and accepted. It has been ten years of God’s sanctifying work in both our lives. I could not have dreamed of more. To celebrate, I’ll give you ten ways (one for each year, although there are so many more) that my life has been impacted by what happened on July 25, 1998. After all, a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

  1. Generosity: Whether it’s being generous with time or resources, Carita’s generous spirit serves as the standard in this area for which I strive each day. She and Jesus. Really.
  2. Simplicity: I used to have pretty strict standards for what I considered fun. Carita, meanwhile, takes enjoyment at some of the simplest things…like people watching, for example. She can do it for hours. Oddly enough, I find myself making “observations” about people when we’re out and about. I never used to notice, much less feel any interest for people watching.
  3. Patience: Love is patient…never more so than when I find myself at the outlet mall on a shopping excursion with my wife.
  4. Silliness: Generally speaking, I am a pretty serious guy. I like to joke around, but I have never been called silly. Except by Carita. When I sing commercial jingles in her ear as she’s waking up in the morning, that might be part of the reason why. I am never as free as when I am around her.
  5. Cleanliness: I like having a clean house, now that I’m married. In contrast, my college living room furniture consisted of a love seat I found by my apartment’s dumpster and a $10 chair I bought from an old lady who owned 6 cats. I didn’t bother to have either of them cleaned. Now, I pick lint off of the couch and dust from the corners of the rooms.
  6. Teamwork: I’m a lone ranger, by personality. Introverted and self-reliant to a fault. I think that’s part of the reason why God has arranged it so that every assignment and every role since we’ve been in ministry has been done together. Now, I can’t imagine doing it without her.
  7. Positive: Her positivity is infectious. I love her for it.
  8. Endurance: This would never have been on my “list” of qualities to look for in a wife. But we couldn’t have made it thus far without it. No other area do I see more of the true strength of my wife’s character than in how she’s endured our struggle with infertility.
  9. Hope: She is quick to hope because she is quick to trust the Lord. It’s not really a quirk of personality, but something from Him and rooted in Him. I find myself drawn to hope, too, because I see her trusting Him and hoping in Him.
  10. Love: Carita’s love for me is gracious and lavish. She really does love me the way that God commands her to. In this, I see each day a picture of how He loves me. Say one thing about Dennis Chen, say that he is loved by God.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I think I have a pretty strong cynical streak. Now, I don't say that proudly and it's something that I'm trying to be more aware of these days. I didn't always see this issue as a problem, though. For example, I could never understand the attachment that people have with their pets...especially their dogs. When people would talk about that scene in Old Yeller, I'd roll my eyes and think, "There go those crazy dog lovers again." I just couldn't understand it and I secretly viewed these "dog lovers" as just a notch or two on the Weird Scale below Tom Cruise - Scientologist.

This was true, of course, until I became a dog owner myself. Now I understand...even if I still can't explain it. So, keep that in mind when I tell you about a Pedigree Dog Food commercial I came across. It's about a dog named Echo. Check it out and consider me Scientologist-weird if you must, but know that I gave my dog a hug after I watched it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Land of the Rising Sun

I took a trip to Japan in October and, even though it’s been a while since I went, I take every chance I get to talk about travels. I just can’t help myself. Anyway, Campus Crusade is trying a collaborative strategy called City Focus, which aims to bring injections of resources to existing ministries in major cities, in order to be more effective in impacting the whole city. One of the 10 cities that we’re targeting is Tokyo, so I went on the initial vision trip as the representative for Epic.

Tokyo is an active city, full of kinetic energy. There are 1.1million college students in the Greater Tokyo area. The analogy used during our trip as to why we’re hoping to infuse Tokyo with resources was: If we were Starbuck’s and wanted every one in Tokyo to have a chance to sample our delicious coffee, we would need to think about starting multiple Starbuck’s in this place because, frankly, opening one or two stores would see those efforts literally swallowed up by the sheer size of Tokyo.

It was an eye-opening experience. I realized how little I knew about the specific spiritual climate in Japan and in Tokyo, especially. Without getting into comparisons about where/who has greater spiritual need than another, it was abundantly clear how much of a need exists in this place. I loved Tokyo and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this was one of my favorite trips! Good food + Good people = Good trip. Here are some pictures (try to put more up later) of my time there…

Conveyor Belt Sushi...much sushi for not much yen.

One form of Tokyo rush hour: sprinting to catch the 6 am!

View of downtown Tokyo from atop the Tokyo Government building.

Shibuya District at night...people everywhere.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jimmy V Week

This week is "Jimmy V Week" on ESPN, featuring week-long initiatives on multiple ESPN platforms to raise awareness for the V Foundation. Stuff like this normally kick starts my cynicism, knowing some of ESPN's self-promoting ways. But the V Foundation raises money for cancer research and that's something that is worthy of our attention.

Jim Valvano, many of you know, was famous for coaching the North Carolina State basketball team to a National Championship over the University of Houston in 1983. By 1993, he was out of coaching and fighting for his life against stage 4 cancer. The clip above is of his acceptance speech for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given to him at the ESPYs that same year. Valvano died less than 2 months after giving this speech.

Since 1993, the V Foundation has raised over $70 million dollars for Cancer Research. In 2005, Jim's own daughter, Jamie, was diagnosed with breast cancer. More importantly, she was diagnosed with a rare form of genetic breast cancer that was only found due to advancements in cancer research, research whose funding was aided by the money raised from her father's Foundation. And because they caught it early, she's since recovered and been declared cancer-free.

But back to that night at the ESPYs in 1993...

It was, quite simply, a fantastic speech. I remember watching that broadcast live in my dorm room that night and being moved to tears. Everyone who watched him that night, whether on TV or at the awards show, knew that he was losing his battle. I recalled then what it was like for my family when Mom had breast cancer. I made special note of what Jim said in that speech, that each day he aims:

1. To laugh each day
2. To spend time each day in thought and reflection
3. To allow his emotions to be stirred and moved to tears

Those just seemed to be wise words to me then. They seem to be much wiser words to me today. Now that Dad also faces his own battle with cancer, not to mention that our good pal Jocelin (even though I wasn't able to run the fundraiser on your behalf, Joce, you know I'm with you) walks that road, too...I am glad for Jimmy V Week on ESPN and for the ways that it is bringing meaningful assistance to this important work.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Where have you gone, Vince Young?

"Where have you gone, Vince Young? The Longhorn Nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

I can hear the haunting voices of Simon & Garfunkel, singing this line in my mind every time I think about Texas football lately. Okay, so it's back to the Holiday Bowl for the Longhorns. Is this supposed to be inspiring? Uh, no. Is the fact that Texas, despite looking beatable
every week except for the Iowa State game, still has a shot at a 10 win season impressive? Not unless you're Texas A&M...oh, the same scrub team that beat us down again (and proceeded to ruin Thanksgiving for me).

Texas football these last 2 years is a cautionary tale. There should be a Warning Label with the Longhorn logo on it, given to every coach in America. The label, quite simply, is this: Don't Blow Your Chance.

When you are presented with the opportunity to seize the fruits of a once-in-a-lifetime victory (like, say, the 2005 Rose Bowl), you better take advantage because the window closes fast. Two years later, Texas is back in the "underachieving" category again. I dare say that the UT football program is securely in the rear-view mirror of Oklahoma (again) and fighting to stay #2 in the conference. The program is not in a better place today than it was on any year in the last 5 leading up to the 2005 Rose Bowl (aka "The Vince Young Show").

I originally intended on writing more of my "thoughts" on the Longhorn football program, but it's kind of making me depressed. Besides, it wouldn't be all that insightful. If interested, you can check out Barking Carnival for your fix on Texas sports, including perspective on the football program. As for me, I might need to go watch my commemorative 2005 Rose Bowl DVD in order to feel better.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Grace Sublime

It was a little more than two weeks ago when I received a call from Mom concerning Dad's cancer. I now type this blog entry while sitting in Dad's hospital room at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He had a very successful surgery this morning, according to the doctor, and the doctor feels really good about the prognosis and upcoming treatment. I am so grateful for the news...for the hope that Dad can soon be cancer-free and for the idea of a shared future with him. Even as I sense God's grace in Dad's life and in mine, I struggle to grasp the extent to which that grace abounds. It is humbling to acknowledge.

The context is that, when I found out Dad was sick, I was in the midst of the busiest season of ministry I have ever experienced. I'm still in the midst of it. I have been consumed and preoccupied with my various responsibilities. For me, deadlines are the kryptonite to reflection and yet reflection is the life-blood of growth in my life. Reflection leads to meditation and meditation leads to, by God's grace, transformation.

Getting the ill news was like slamming on the brakes of the car while driving at a very fast speed. There was the jolting, the screeching, the skidding, and the jarring. I know God intends much more through this than simply getting my attention, yet I felt compelled for the first time in months to consider life beyond the urgent.

Since then, I find myself drawn to prayer, drawn to more dependence on Him. I want Dad to be okay and, still, the possibility that he won't be frightens me sometimes. Dad knows in Whom he has believed, he knows Who his Savior is. Of that I have no fear. I struggle, then, to put a name to this fear. I think it revolves primarily around the image I have of the future and of that image being shattered. It feels oddly similar to the frustrations that I still struggle with in regards to infertility. My vision for the future involves children for Carita and I and a grandfather for those children, afterall. Fear and frustration ensue when that vision is threatened. God has been gracious as I try to find my place in His plans and His place in mine.

Since then, I have seen Mom and Dad live and speak with a clarity of purpose that seems to graciously come to those who must consider their mortality. As I have heard them share the ways in which God has soaked their days with His mercy and love...the ways in which He is teaching them, I find myself drawn towards those same themes and lessons.

Since then, I have seen Mom and Dad's ministry to the Body of Christ increase in significant ways. I have seen the Body of Christ surround them with prayers, affirmation, and consideration in ways that leave me speechless. I see the ways that they have impacted those around them because people are lining up and begging for the opportunity to minister to them. They bring flowers, drop by with meals, constantly pray. They plead for their turn to be by Dad's bedside and consider it their privilege to stay with him through the night. It makes me teary-eyed to see how much people care for my parents.

And, as I sit here in Dad's room, keeping him company through this first night of recovery, I see the ways in which God's grace is sufficient for all of our needs. What challenges tomorrow will bring, I do not know, but I see that His grace is abundant for every minute and that I never need to hoard up His grace, as if there won't be enough for the next minute or day or month. I see that we are overwhelmed by His goodness and I count it a blessing to be known and so loved by Him.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bay Area Update 3: Northings

With the first weekend of Project having come to a close, it's appropriate to note what some of our objectives are and the vision that drives them. Our Project vision still remains to:

Establish a community of Christ-centered and Christ-incarnate disciples, organically planting spiritual movements on the campuses and communities of the Bay Area.

This is the same vision as last year's Project, so I'll just refer you to my explanations from a year ago.

Along with our vision, we are developing another theme. The purpose behind us using the name "Epic" is as a reminder of the Spiritual Journey. It's a reminder of the struggle within the Journey. Annie Dillard once wrote a meditation on the pursuit of God called, " to help round out the meaning behind the words.
An Expedition to The Pole". In it, she compares the Spiritual journey to that of a Polar expedition, stating that in both there is but one goal...measured by northing. A 'northing' is the distance traveled or measured northward. That goal is the destination and the explorer's proximity to that goal is the only measure of progress. Likewise is the journey towards God. She writes:

These northings drew me, present northings, past northings, the thought of northings. In the literature of polar exploration, the talk is of northing. The explorer might scrawl in his tattered journal, 'Latitude 82 + 15' N. We accomplished 20 miles of northing today, in spite of the shifting pack.' Shall I go northing? My legs are long."

I like this description of our spiritual journey. I like that this reminder of the determination and the single-minded focus on destination that characterizes successful exploration is also what characterizes a drawing near to God. I like how the Epic Movement draws inspiration in its name from similar themes of an epic journey. Lastly, I like how all of us on Project have committed to the same thing. Shall we go northing, then?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bay Area Update 2

It's late Saturday night of our first weekend of Project. We've had a full schedule so far. After our Welcome Orientation on Friday morning, we all went for a tour of downtown San Francisco. The weather (which, you may have noticed, is something that I closely observe) has been very cooperative so far. Normally, San Fran can get chilly when the fog rolls in from the Bay, but Friday was sunny...the kind of day that the Chamber of Commerce loves because it makes the city seem so great. On the tour (conducted by our friend Keoke), we saw various parts of Chinatown and got some of the history of the area. Keoke commented about what a strange sight our group must be: a white guy giving a tour of Chinatown to a bunch of Asians. We also asked the students to take pictures of things they saw in downtown SF that spoke to them concerning God's heart for the city and the people. We asked them to try and capture, on film, what might break God's heart or signs of His redemptive plan at work. We're going to share our results tomorrow (Sunday) night at our Family Time.

Today (Saturday), we took another trip into San Francisco for our first Mercy Ministry event. Partnering again like last year with City Team Ministries, our group travelled to Sixth Street in SF to pass out bags of food to homeless and near-homeless residents. It is said that by the time a person hits Sixth Street, they've burned all of their bridges and have nowhere else to go. They've lost their families, jobs, homes...they often are in the grips of multiple addictions and far, far away from a life of meaning. City Team does some incredible work in these hard places, giving structure, guidance, and assistance to those who want to get back on their feet. Most of all, they give out HOPE found in the truth of the Gospel and an environment by which the most broken and marginalized people in the city can experience the redeeming work of the Cross. Carita and I both teared up at the testimonies of the volunteers, who themselves are going through City Team's addiction recovery and Re-education Program. It's sometimes hard to imagine all of the various circumstances and poor choices that would finally land these people where they're at, but it's equally hard to imagine the amount of courage and faith it would take to climb out of that hole.

I think the impact of entering into another's world can change lives...certainly, it can change perspectives. We passed out the bags, but more importantly, we offered to pray for people. We listened to their stories, shook their hands, gave them hugs. For many who find themselves on Sixth Street, this is more than they have received in years. As the director of the City Team center, Rashida, said, "this is the worst kind of not only have nothing materially, but relationally, either." I pray that God would truly help us to not only
Proclaim the Gospel passionately, but Demonstrate the Gospel compassionately this summer.